What's so "good" about news of the Messiah?
Mark begins his gospel account in this way:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God
Mark 1.1 [NIV]
The translators here of the NIV made a judgement call here to translate "of" as "about", referring to the content of the news (i.e., the content of the news is about Jesus). This might not mean a whole lot to you here, but in other places of the Bible (and the New Testament specifically), how you translate/interpret the "of" can make a major difference on your life.
Quick Greek Lesson: The Two "of's"
Greek, like the English language contains a grammatical case called the genitive. Typically, a genitive case is used in one of two ways:
To show possession of something (known as a subjective genitive)
To show a close relationship between two things (known as an objective genitive)
Looking back at Mark 1.1, we see which case the translators of the NIV believed most accurately reflected the original author's intention. "...the good news about Jesus..." is the objective genitive choice. The object of the good news, that to which the news is pointing/directed toward is Jesus. Had the translators gone with the subjective genitive translation, they would have simply rendered the text "... the good news of Jesus..." or if we wanted to put it in more modern English, "... Jesus' good news". Why would that matter? In some cases, it might not make a drastic difference for us when reading the text. In fact, there are some places (like here in Mark 1.1), that I believe BOTH forms of the genitive can be (and are) used. The good news that Jesus preached (subjective), is about Himself (objective).
The Good News of the Messiah
In my first blog entry I mentioned that the title "Messiah" was packed full of meaning and expectation therefore serving as a "shorthand catchall" for scriptural texts, covenants, and promises from God. That being said, if we don't "hear" all of the connotation inferred by the word we will miss out on much of the power and point of the very message.
Let's jump down to Mark 1.14.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1.14-15 [NIV]
Again, we encounter another genitive, "...the good news of God." Since in the very next verse Mark includes what the good news (gospel) was, we can safely interpret this genitive as subjective (i.e. the good news is from God and is His news). Since Mark does record what Jesus preached as His gospel, let's look at it again.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1.15 [NIV]
The shortened summary of what Jesus said was the good news (gospel) of God is that "the time" has come, and the kingdom of God has come near. Let's take this in stages (again, this isn't going to be exhaustive, but enough to help you begin processing, as with the title of Messiah, just how much is packed into this gospel proclamation of Jesus.
"The time has come"
Really, "has come" can be translated "is fulfilled". I prefer that for this conversation because I believe that will help us keep at the forefront of our minds what is being talked about when Jesus is referring to "the time". In general, whenever a definite article ("the") is attached to something, it has something specific in mind. It can't (or shouldn't) just be attached to any/every little similar thing. For Jesus, "the" time was something specific that the people in His immediate context would have known about, probably even expecting. Here's an example of what I mean. I remember back on my wedding day, hanging out with my friends upstairs waiting for the ceremony to begin. I can still remember sitting there talking when the coordinator walked in and simply said, "It's time." I didn't have to sit and wonder what she meant. I knew EXACTLY what she was referring to and meaning when she said those words.
"The Kingdom of God has come near"
What did "the time" refer to? The Kingdom of God coming near. The awaited Kingdom that was promised beforehand in the prophets was now right before the people. The phrase "come near" is in the Greek perfect tense, which signifies a past action with presently continuing results. Something that was believed to be so far away not only has come but can be seen before your very eyes.
"Repent & believe the good news"
In light of the gospel (good news), there are expected responses if one is going to respond positively to the news. Going back to my example from earlier involving my wedding, when I heard the coordinator tell me "It's time", a response was expected. Technically, there were two choices available to me in that moment.
I can get up and follow the coordinator to where I'm supposed to be.
I can ignore the coordinator and stay where I'm at.
I technically do have two choices here. However, if I want the wedding today to proceed as planned and everything to happen as they should, I cannot respond negatively. The same is true with the gospel. There is an expected response (a positive response) from the one who hears if he/she agrees with the news, accepts the news, and desires to become a part of the kingdom. That response is to repent (meaning to change your mind about what you thought was true/worth your trust/allegiance and turn around) and believe the good news (trust the news as true and rearrange your life because of this news, pledging your allegiance and faithfulness to this new king(dom)).
If you have been waiting for something for a long time, and finally it arrives/happens, the proclamation of the arrival of that long-awaited time/result would certainly be good news. Picture an iceberg for a moment.
In this illustration, think of the iceberg as the gospel message. Now let the top of the iceberg (what's above the water) represent the New Testament, while the bottom portion (what's underneath the water) represent the Old Testament. You can see that while the iceberg is identified and seen by what's above the water, the foundation (majority of its mass) lies beneath the surface. Likewise with the gospel, the Old Testament provides the extensive foundation upon which the New Testament fleshes out and clarifies. Can you know Jesus with just the New Testament? Of course you can, just as you know an iceberg is there by seeing a mountain of ice floating above the waterline. Yet there's so much more of it beneath the surface. In other words, while it is in the New Testament that we find Jesus clearly identified as the Messiah, the Son of God, it is the Old Testament that provides foundation, framework, and very meaning behind why it even matters. If you want to have the WHOLE picture of what the gospel is, you need both Old and New Testaments.
A Better Gospel
From hearing teachings and reading books on the gospel today, one could come away with the conclusion that the gospel is "God dealing with sin so when we die, we can go to heaven". But I want to pose a question (really a series of questions) that the late Dallas Willard poses in his excellent book The Divine Conspiracy.
"The real question, I think is whether God would establish a bar code type of arrangement at all. It is we who are in danger: in danger of missing the fullness of life offered to us. Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched? Would he leave us even temporarily marooned with no help in our kind of world, with our kinds of problems: psychological, emotional, social, and global? Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after? Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are? And for those of us who think the Bible is a reliable or even significant guide to God's view of human life, can we validly interpret its portrayal of faith in Christ as one concerned only with the management of sin, whether in the form of our personal debt or in the form of societal evils?"
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 38.
Why did this article shift from being about the Messiah to being about the gospel? It's simply because the two are intimately connected. If the Messiah is the promised, long-awaited king of the Kingdom of God, then that arrival of that kingdom and its king is the good news that people had been longing to hear. The gospel is not about us and what we get. The gospel is about the Kingdom and its King. In my next post, we'll dive a little deeper into "gospel" and the benefits this good news brings.